International Athletes find refuge in Mobile

Sasha Harper, Staff Writer

The Armstrong tennis team celebrates their win at the ITA Regionals just days before Hurricane Matthews ravaged the southeast and forced their evacuation — Monday, October 3rd, 2016 (Armstrong Communications)

Imagine being on the other side of the world, away from your family, without a vehicle, and you hear a hurricane is coming your way. What do you do? Where do you go? That’s what the international student-athletes of Armstrong State faced with Hurricane Matthew.

The evacuation plan consisted of taking a bus on Thursday morning to a hotel in Mobile, Alabama where athletes and students alike stayed for nearly a week.        

Our international student-athletes were evacuated as a part of the Housing department’s evacuation plans. As an athletic department, we thought it best to have those students follow the general evacuation order from the school as a whole rather than to try and complicate things by doing something different,” Director of Sports Information Chad Jackson explained about the school’s decision to bus athletes and students alike out of the state.

Lena Lutzeier, an junior member of the tennis team from Blaustein, Germany, remembers how she first heard of Hurricane Matthew.

“We just came back from regionals when one of my friends came into our apartment to welcome us back,” she explained. “He told us that we may have to evacuate because of an incoming hurricane. First, I thought he was joking, but my teammates and I realized fast that he wasn’t joking, he was serious.”

This was all a new experience to Lutzeier since hurricanes are not common in Europe. At first, she did not know the meaning of the different categories, but she quickly did some research and along with the messages from her friends and coach, she understood that this was a potentially strong and dangerous hurricane.

Anytime you deal with a potential natural disaster, it’s inherent that everyone is just a little more on edge and stressed out,” head tennis coach Sean McCaffrey said. “Take into consideration everyone on the tennis team is an international student makes trying to locate a ‘safe place’ that much more difficult. They do not have family nearby nor do they own cars that would allow them to evacuate in a quick manner.”

Lorenzo Camilli, a freshman on the men’s tennis team from Rome, Italy, expressed his relief to find the campus in good shape when they returned to Savannah. He said some people acted like Hurricane Matthew was “the end of the world and we evacuated really far, I was happy to see that when we came back, the campus was fine.”

It certainly seems the entire student body that was forced to evacuate were more than grateful to have many members of the Armstrong staff helping them out in the tough times throughout the storm.

“I’m sure I speak for all the other international students who evacuated with me,” Lutzeier said. “I want to thank President [Linda] Bleicken, the international office, housing, the athletic department, and our coach Sean McCaffrey [for staying] calm in this extreme situation and figuring out such a good evacuation plan for us. We truly appreciate it! Thank you!”